Author Topic: Those who inspired seen as 'real people'  (Read 954 times)

Offline David

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Those who inspired seen as 'real people'
« on: May 29, 2007, 08:49:49 AM »
They changed us. They inspired us to do better, be braver. They made us think. They gave us hope.

They did what many cannot fathom. One gave up riches as a football star to fight and die for his country. Another won the Tour de France seven consecutive times after chemotherapy and brain surgery. Another emerged not bitter or broken after 27 years in prison for fighting racism, but determined to find peace.

They are among 25 people who moved us during the past quarter-century, as selected by the staff of USA TODAY. Many have been famous and influential, but others were regular folks with private lives. One remains anonymous: the lone man who faced a column of tanks during pro-democracy protests in China's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

LIST: People who have moved us

In a moment or over a lifetime, our hearts went out to them.

Some, like the passengers on United Flight 93 who fought terrorist hijackers, touched us with their heroism. Some, like those on the U.S. women's team that won soccer's World Cup in 1999, made us smile. For others, it wasn't what they did but what happened to them. Remember Jessica McClure, the toddler trapped in a well in Midland, Texas, 20 years ago? For 58 hours until she was rescued, the nation was transfixed.

"People resonate when we have a sense of the common vulnerability we all share," says Michelle Nunn, editor of Be the Change!, a book about the power of one person to make a difference in the world.

Lance Armstrong says his triumph over illness inspired people because "everyone relates to cancer." He says the public's support might have been different had his illness been less common.

"They saw it as not a story, but their story," Armstrong says. He says cancer and his willingness to talk about it made his subsequent Tour de France victories more uplifting.

Like Armstrong, most on the list, even the children, have known suffering.

"People who move us are often people who suffer for their goals or suffer for an inexplicable reason," says James McAllister, chairman of the Leadership Studies Program at Williams College.

"There aren't too many happy stories" on the list, McAllister says. He says some leaders use their pain to set examples for others. "They're living the cause."

Many moved us by showing what is possible and good in life. "These are people who help us see the glass is half full," says Karen Pritzker, co-founder of the My Hero Project, a group that encourages young people to do good works.

Some — such as actor Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana, who became activists for research into spinal injuries after Christopher was paralyzed in a horse riding accident — became accidental leaders.

"Many of us have seeds of heroism in us," Pritzker says. "It's special but not rarefied."

What makes people step up?

"It's amazing how many cite their parents" as inspiration, says Pritzker, who edited the book, My Hero, about the people who motivate leaders. "Their parents aren't self-absorbed, indulgent people."

"I had wonderful role models in my family," says Mia Hamm, who was one of the world's best female soccer players and a key member of the U.S. team that won the World Cup.

She cites her parents and her older brother, Garrett, whose opinion she says mattered greatly to her. "I wanted to be him."

"A lot of it is temperament," says John Maxwell, author of the best-selling book The 360 Degree Leader.

He says some people are born with leadership leanings, "but leadership can be learned." Another factor, he says, is "timing and circumstance."

Leaders are defined by genuineness and humility, says Marc Muchnick, co-author of The Leadership Pill. "They come across as real people."

He says they keep promises and persevere despite long odds.

"We have a generation of people growing up different," Muchnick adds, "because of the people on this list."

Princess Diana: 'Able to see through to people'

Princess Diana was the ultimate celebrity: wealth, beauty, style, even a tiara. She moved us for other reasons, though.

"She was self-involved in some ways but was able to get outside herself," says Karen Pritzker, co-founder of the My Hero Project, a group that encourages young people to do good works. Pritzker cites Diana's efforts to comfort AIDS patients and rid the world of land mines.

"She was able to see through to people. She had that gift," she says.

"She was someone everybody could relate to," says Marc Muchnick, co-author of The Leadership Pill. "She was different from other royalty."

In interviews, Diana appeared vulnerable. She admitted to marital problems, struggles with depression and an eating disorder.

Her public life was book-ended with captivating images: the fairy-tale wedding to Prince Charles in St. Paul's Cathedral at age 20, and the fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel at 36.

Mattie Stepanek: Courageous young poet

He was just a boy when he appeared on national TV shows to read from his best-selling books of poems about love, hope and peace.

"He charmed everyone with his not being angry with his situation," a rare form of muscular dystrophy, says Jeanne Meyers, director of the My Hero Project. "He asked, 'Why not me?' instead of 'Why me?' "

His mom, Jeni Stepanek, says Mattie knew so much about life because he lived intensely. She says he was bullied, buried people he loved and faced his own mortality. He had three older siblings who died of the same illness. His mom has a milder, adult-onset form.

"I had to teach my son how to grieve and how to be happy again," she says.

Mattie, who began writing poetry as a toddler, published five books by the time he died in 2004, shortly before his 14th birthday. His favorite line: "Remember to play after every storm."

"I found him to be magical," Oprah Winfrey wrote in the foreword to his book, Reflections of a Peacemaker.

Former president Jimmy Carter delivered a eulogy at Mattie's funeral. Carter said he has known "kings and queens … presidents and prime ministers" but "the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known in my life is Mattie Stepanek."

In 2000, Mattie wrote:

"Even though the future seems far away,

It is actually beginning right now.

And while we are living in the present,

We must celebrate life everyday.

Knowing that we are becoming history

With every word, every action, every moment.

Because we, today, are the history of tomorrow."

Pat Tillman: Athlete who became a symbol of patriotism

His service and his death touched people. Pat Tillman was a pro football star who was newly married when he enlisted in the Army after the 9/11 attacks. In 2004, he was killed in Afghanistan. The Pentagon initially said it was enemy fire, but weeks later, it came out that confused members of his own platoon shot him.

Peter Gibbon, author of A Call to Heroism, cited Tillman's multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals. "We're a very materialistic culture, and he gave up the money to serve his country," he says. "He was martyred."

Tillman and his brother, Kevin, an aspiring pro baseball player, "felt the country was in need" even though they disagreed with the war in Iraq, their mother, Mary Tillman, says. "They just felt everyone should be playing a part." She says several family members had served in the military. "They heard a lot about serving your country."

She says Pat was interested in history and read a lot. She says he played football "because he loved it," not for the glamour or money.

"There was a lot of thought that went into his decision," says Tillman's widow, Marie, who married him in May 2002, two months before he went overseas.

She says she asked him not to go but ultimately supported his decision.

"It was incredibly difficult."

1999 U.S. Women's Soccer Team: A new horizon

The U.S. women who won soccer's World Cup in 1999 captivated the nation, bolstering not only a sport but also the dreams of millions of girls.

"The timing of it all was perfect," player Mia Hamm says. She notes that no other big news story competed that day. "It was unbelievable," she says of the victory, broadcast live on TV, before more than 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl.

The excitement helped inspire the formation of a pro soccer league for women. It folded four years ago, but a slimmer league is preparing to launch.

"It was like they shattered the glass ceiling, in a different way," says Marc Muchnick, co-author of The Leadership Pill. Hamm is his daughter's role model.

Hamm, who has scored more international goals in her career than any other player male or female, started a foundation in 1999 to promote women's sports programs and bone marrow research. Her brother Garrett died of a bone marrow disease shortly after the 1996 Olympics.

"I try to live responsibly," Hamm says, adding that her fame has given her a "wonderful" platform to help others. "I can't preach it and not do it."

Hamm, 35, married Los Angeles Dodger Nomar Garciaparra and gave birth in March to twin girls, Ava and Grace. She no longer plays soccer. She says she loved the sport, but it was time to go.

"The thing I miss most are the people," she says, holding Ava in her arms. Aside from her family, she says, "They're my best friends."

Lance Armstrong: The champion, the cancer survivor

At 25, Lance Armstrong was one of the world's best cyclists. He had a beautiful girlfriend, a lavish new home on Lake Austin in Texas and a Porsche. Life seemed golden.

Then came a shocking diagnosis: testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. He was given less than a 40% chance of survival.

"My illness was humbling and starkly revealing," he writes in his autobiography, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. The man known to his cycling teammates as FedEx, for the speed with which he went through girlfriends, says he realized there were "shameful episodes" in his life and he had "a lot of growing to do as a man."

He says there are two Lances: pre-cancer and post. After his illness, he married and had three kids. He later divorced his wife, Kristin, and was engaged to singer Sheryl Crow. They later broke up.

What's fascinating about Armstrong is his "transformation" of character, says Peter Gibbon, author of A Call to Heroism.

"By his own admission, he was a jerk before coming down with cancer," Gibbon says.

"People admire his persistence," Pritzker says.

Armstrong, now 35, says his perseverance is "a little genetic, a little environmental." He says his mom, who had him at 17 and brought him up mostly on her own, is a "tough character" who taught him survival.

Armstrong says his leadership, in heading a foundation to raise money for cancer treatment and research, is not a burden but a "responsibility."

Aside from his kids, a 7-year-old son and 5-year-old twin girls, he says, "I'm more committed to my cause than anything."